Companies in Georgia now have an additional year of protection from civil claims arising from alleged COVID-19 exposure, transmission, infection or potential exposure. The Georgia COVID-19 Pandemic Business Safety Act (GCPBSA), which came into effect last summer, provides some level of protection for businesses and individuals from COVID-19 exposure claims (and other types of claims). Originally, the law applied to all claims that arose before July 14, 2021. It now applies to claims made prior to July 14, 2022. However, you need to take some specific proactive steps to maintain this protection – so make sure you understand the specifics of this law. And you need to understand the limitations of the law and the wider legal landscape that apply to employers.

The extension of the GCPBSA

Georgian legislators recently passed House Bill 112, which extends the protection GCPBSA grants to Georgian companies. Protection in GCPBSA originally had a sunset clause from July 14, 2021, but House Bill 112 extends the law to July 14, 2022. Governor Brian Kemp has now signed House Bill 112 so companies can continue to have protection under that law.

Details of the GCPBSA

The GCPBSA makes the rebuttable presumption that a plaintiff initiating civil proceedings in Georgia against a person or company related to COVID-19 has assumed the risk of exposure, transmission, infection or potential exposure related to COVID-19 . Taking the risk is usually a defense that a sued company or person must prove and that requires proof that a plaintiff (1) is actually aware of the risk that he claims has caused them harm. (2) have understood and assessed the risk and hazard; and (3) have voluntarily exposed themselves to that risk.

However, the GCPBSA reverses the burden of proof on this matter and a plaintiff making a COVID-19-related claim must demonstrate that the plaintiff did not assume the risk of exposure, transmission, infection or potential exposure related to COVID -19. If the plaintiff is unable to do this, then it is likely that a defendant will prevail in such a lawsuit. Note, however, that the presumption is rebuttable. In other words, a plaintiff can try to determine that they did not take the risk. However, this must be determined before a claim can be made.

The specific language and actions required to trigger GCPBSA protection

For companies or individuals who do not sell tickets for their property, liability protection under the GCPBSA can be triggered by providing signage in at least 1 inch Arial font be placed separately from other texts at all entry points to their property, indicating:

warning

Under Georgian law, there is no liability for the injury or death of any person entering these premises if that injury or death results from the risks associated with the conclusion of COVID-19. You assume this risk by entering these premises.

Ticket sales companies must include the following warning on receipts or proof of purchase for entry in at least 10-point Arial font, separated from any other text:

Any person entering the premises waives any civil liability to the owner and operator of such premises for injuries caused by the risk associated with the conclusion of COVID-19 at public gatherings, with the exception of gross negligence, willful and willful Misconduct, reckless infliction of damage or willful infliction of damage by the person or the establishment of the premises.

What the GCPBSA doesn’t cover

The existence of this law does not mean that employers can take a laissez-faire attitude towards COVID-19 or safety in the workplace, as the law has important restrictions. First, this shift in the burden of proof discussed above does not apply to allegations of gross negligence, willful misconduct, reckless infliction or willful infliction of harm. Therefore, the law is not as robust as it blushes at first glance: Any behavior that goes beyond negligence is probably not regulated by law. Second, the GCPBSA does not apply to employee compensation claims. While companies should seek the protection of the law discussed above and it can be useful if an employee sues their employer despite the availability of employee compensation, workers who receive COVID-19 in the workplace can appeal through the law’s system of employee compensation. Finally, the Federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is responsible for occupational safety issues in Georgia, and employers could still be listed under OSHA’s general mandatory clause if they fail to follow federal guidelines from OSHA and CDC.

What should employers do?

For information on actions you can take if the number of vaccinated workers continues to grow, please see our warning: Employers May Scrap Mask Mandates for Fully Vaccinated Workers: A 7-Step Plan for Overcoming Risks and Hurdles. And you should immediately familiarize yourself with our warning, which outlines the steps to prepare for possible COVID-19 OSHA inspections / quotes. This also includes the recommendation to draw up a written COVID-19 program. Keep sharing your COVID-19 policies with employees and hearing and addressing any occupational safety concerns they have.